We already have smart phones, smart cars, and smart homes. Now, we have Smart Churches. That's right...your church building can be SMART.  What does that even mean?

Having been born into a pastor's family, I have been involved in church for over 59 years and have served the church facilities "market" for about 34 of those years. That said, I can tell you firsthand the church tends to lag when it comes to adopting new trends, means, methods, and technology. This is not a slam on the "church" as an organization, it is a reality. 

However, many churches are now keeping up with trends, and, in many cases, leading the charge (especially with sound systems, video production, etc.). Consider the YouVersion Bible app or online giving and text-to-give options; these are almost as commonplace as the offering plate, especially now due to COVID-19.  

Internet of Things (IoT)

Some churches have more IT personnel than about 80% of American churches have on their entire staff. There is a trending technology concept I believe will impact all aspects of your world, including church, so let's get familiar with it: Internet of Things (IoT). 

According to a recent Forbes article, IoT is described as the following:

“…Simply put this is the concept of basically connecting any device with an on and off switch to the Internet (and/or to each other).  This includes everything from cell phones, coffee makers, washing machines, headphones, lamps, wearable devices and almost anything else you can think of.  

This also applies to components of machines, for example, a jet engine of an airplane or the drill of an oil rig.  As I mentioned, if it has an on and off switch, then chances are it can be a part of the IoT.  The analyst firm Gartner says that by 2020, there will be over 26 billion connected devices...

The IoT is a giant network of connected things (which also includes people). The relationship will be between people-people, people-things, and things-things.”

So, what does this mean for your church? 

For the past decade, the term “smart” has been used to identify devices and physical environments that have incorporated technology to produce integration, inter-connectivity, and system processing that does not rely solely on human interaction. While we cannot literally give your facility a brain, we can help add components that are “smart.” 

Major facility systems can be integrated with themselves and their management tools (i.e. Church Management Software and Event Scheduling Software).  Imagine this: you schedule an event in your management software and it does the following:

  • Turns the HVAC on in time for the event and turns it off after the event
  • Unlocks/locks digitally-controlled doors for access to the event
  • Lists the event schedule and details on digital signage throughout your building
  • Turns on and off TVs and projectors for the event
  • Turns on and off lights needed for the event
  • Alerts your facility team and appropriate vendors if there is a significant issue

Does this sound too good to be true? Good news: it’s not. This is the world of IoT (Internet of Things), and the future is NOW.

But wait, there's more!

Given the incorporation of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other, more of this integration is going to interact via API's and not through proprietary protocols.

Since API's are an IT widget and not an everyday Facilities Management tool, the IT department at your church will play a much larger role here (via IoT). Most of these IoT integrations will require Ethernet or Wi-Fi connectivity. This may require the incorporation of firewalls, networks, servers, static IP's, cloud connectivity, and storage.

Many of the applications mentioned above will have cost and budget implications. Some will have significant reductions in cost as we become more effective and efficient. On the other hand, some of those savings may be offset by subscriptions, hardware, software, and maintenance.

The Crux

IT and facilities must collaborate and communicate to make your church a smart church.

The two must seek information from each other before decisions are made, must determine WHY they need an application before, must decide on the WHAT and HOW, and must have budget discussions.  As stated above, there may be cost savings and offsets.  Whose budgets do these savings and costs impact?

All the above will make most IT professionals start to geek out.  However, there is a very practical reason this needs to be on your radar.  It all boils down to operational efficiency.  Nearly every church is understaffed in their facilities department. 

We find that churches are unlikely to increase their staffing to the level that is really needed (1 FTE for every 30-35,000 SF), so how do we help our current staff be more productive?  Could they be more efficient and effective if they didn’t have to address tasks that could otherwise be automated? This kind of technology can do just that.

As you can see, this is an exciting topic with great potential that deserves consideration. Unless we are living in a cave rubbing two sticks together to make fire, change comes to us all and we all adapt.  The iPhone is only 13 years old, yet if feels like we have always had one.  Just think how SMART your church facility could be in another 13 years!

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